BBC's The Capture BBC's The Capture

The Capture tackles the growing fakery of the world we live in but does it have any answers?

I will resist going on about how brilliant it is that in the past week Phil Mitchell, the most unreconstructed male character in Eastenders, has exploded onto social media as an unexpected gay icon for lamping a man in a mid homophobic rant in The Queen Vic. A truly joyous moment. Instead, I would like to apply a Marxist analysis to the BBC1 series The Capture that is currently vying with The Bodyguard for Biggest Baddest Conspiracy Theory Thriller ever. Just so you know, I did not review The Bodyguard last year because I could never quite get past what a consummately clever and empathetic actor Richard Maddon was with how much he looked like a carp when having sex with Keeley Hawes which, sadly, distracted me from any rigorous analysis of the underlying themes of the series.

In any case, as a storyline, The Capture could be better than The Bodyguard. In past TV reviews, I have argued that the underlying insight that most crime drama inadvertently gives us, running underneath the lives of the criminals it hunts down in story after story, is how much capitalism can reduce, constrain, distort and waste human potential. Instead of blaming the class system, however, crime drama repeatedly veers off into blaming ‘others’ – bogeymen or shady foreigners who don’t have our (alleged) European respect for civilised values. Thrillers can be similar to this in their underlying narratives but, as a genre, they are out to ‘thrill’ as much as solve a problem and the ‘thrill’ that currently consumes us is questioning the growing fakery of the world we live in. The Capture tackles this head on.

Writer Ben Chanan has stated that he wanted to make two points – firstly, about the increasing reliance of the courts on filmed footage and, secondly, about the increasing ease with which that footage can be manipulated. The Capture isn’t the first drama to make fake images its main subject, of course, but now that fake news may be a term that is rapidly losing all meaning, questioning the veracity of what we see appears to be the consuming worry of the moment. If we have no way of establishing the facts, how will we make any sense of the world?

Lance Corporal Shaun Emery (Callum Turner) is wrongly convicted for the murder of a surrendering Taliban fighter during a skirmish in Helmand province and he is banged up for six months. Thanks to a resourceful Irish solicitor (Barry Ward) and human rights barrister (Laura Haddock), he is freed because they establish that the headcam video footage from the battlefield is faulty and out of sync. Thus, Emery’s ‘incriminating’ shout of “Get back” was in fact uttered before and not after he shot the prisoner-of-war.

Emery’s case is dismissed, everyone celebrates in his local in Croydon, Emery surprisingly doesn’t drink (but then he is also painstakingly portrayed as a flawed but devoted father, actively against Islamophobic abuse and many other obvious touches to make him hero material), follows his brilliant barrister out of the pub, offers her a lift home, is gently refused and is spotted on ever-watchful CCTV beating up and then abducting her. Emery is back inside charged with assault, kidnapping and perverting the course of justice. A clever and generally resented fast-track ‘graduate princess’ trainee DI Rachel Carey (Holliday Grainger) turns up to take charge of the case. But the CCTV evidence is suddenly withdrawn by the security services for reasons too confidential to disclose even to the ‘graduate princess’ and Emery is released again.

Emery goes on the run and discovers he’s part of a conspiracy to ‘doctor’ evidence but his is only a small conspiracy wrapped inside a much larger one. By the penultimate episode, we realise that the menacing American spook (Ron Perlman), who has been sitting around in darkened rooms grizzling at his shadowy army of CIA assistants and sucking malevolently on cranberry juice, is protecting a secret programme called ‘Correction’. This makes use of all-pervasive surveillance cameras and computer technology to rewrite history and incriminate anybody that the security services feel it would be useful to remove. The story is now speeding towards the usual mainstream narrative that everybody’s a pawn in an incomprehensibly huge game and there’s nothing to be done. One senior officer warns the ‘graduate princess’: “This is global. Even if we wanted to, there’s nothing any of us can do to stop it.”

But is there really nothing? Emery is a working-class lad with limited prospects turned into a killing machine for the army and has so far been very resourceful in eluding capture and may very well, in the final episode, take up the principled fight against Correction and stop it interfering with our glorious criminal justice system and, in particular, the hallowed principle of innocent until proven guilty. Lest we forget (and the series does nod towards this), thanks to the Tories our criminal justice system is currently in meltdown with under-resourced police drowning in digital data, the courts themselves literally crumbling, the cuts in legal aid denying justice to those who need it most and the government taking what Lady Justice Macur herself has described as the ‘political decision’ to slash even further the number of crown court sitting days to save on costs so that courtrooms sit empty, judges on full pay sit at home and justice for ordinary people is postponed again while the backlog of unheard cases rises to more than 32,000. Now, this is still better than the criminal justice system in Italy (where I grew up) where you are guilty until proven innocent and the average time spent in jail between indictment and a court judgement is ten years – so yes, the glory of British justice is only relative, and its stitch-ups well known, but still worth fighting for when spooks tell us they are bypassing it for our own good.

Maybe Emery will find a way to triumph. Carey is on his side now along with her ordinary plod colleagues who are portrayed as far more clear-thinking and decent than the more senior SO15 career-hungry technology-crazed counter-terrorism police. The enemy is portrayed as the American security services tampering with evidence and the British are rotten apples if they help them. But, let’s get real, we are still waiting after 35 years for justice for the lies told about the Battle of Orgreave on 18th June 1984 when the BBC ran footage back to front so as to make sure that the striking miners seemed to attack the police first rather than, as happened, the police attacking the miners first. Approximately 8,000 pickets in T-shirts faced 5,000 fully armed police officers in riot gear with dogs and horses. In the ensuing clashes, 95 people were charged with riot and violent disorders. Eventually, all their cases were dropped after the reliability of police evidence was brought into question. It was, according to Michael Mansfield QC, “the biggest frame-up ever”.

The final episode of The Capture airs tomorrow, Tuesday 8th October, on BBC1 so tune in or binge watch to see what our storytellers think is the way out of this class-based, class-interested, state-sponsored fakery. In Years and Years, ordinary citizens in an imagined future successfully fight back with social media, publically exposing the state lies. But we know that the public exposure and condemnation of “the biggest frame-up ever” hasn’t changed the state’s behaviour for 35 years so what hope for Emery on Tuesday?

I have a very small example of how change can happen. Some years ago, a lowly box office supervisor at a London opera house was seen on CCTV seemingly printing off a number of top-price tickets for a popular show and putting them in his pocket. After a lengthy investigation, he was dismissed for theft with intent to sell the tickets on to ticket touts. His BECTU union reps argued every possible angle on how it could not have happened referring to the technology, the cash transactions, his good character and even taking a unanimous vote of confidence in the accused across the nearly 100 members of the box office. Management would not budge because the film footage could not lie. Then the nearly 100 members of the box office voted to go out on strike. A few days later, the accused returned to work completely exonerated. We were told that the CEO had decided to watch the CCTV footage again and miraculously found that, sometime after the piece of footage we had all been watching, the man had taken the alleged stolen tickets out of his pocket and dropped them in a bin. The CEO did not think it necessary to show us this new footage but was fully satisfied the man was innocent after all. In the end, it’s not better lawyers or better technology or public shaming, it’s the collective power of the working class flexing its collective muscle in the pursuit of what it knows to be true and fair that will sweep away the fakery.

Let’s see what happens on Tuesday….

Sofie Mason

Sofie Mason is a political activist, arts campaigner, trade union official and occasionally works for all-female plumbing company Stopcocks.

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